Self-esteem is something I lacked when I was younger, from my childhood all through my twenties and beyond. Perhaps that was what triggered my long struggle with bulimia, fortunately now behind me. It´s taken me a lifetime to feel good about myself and I can live with that, but as the mother of two young girls, now 9 and 12, one of my life missions is raising confident daughters by helping them realize their self-worth early on.
I have to say that, so far, so good. Every year during their medical checkup, the doctor invariably asks each of them “Do you like yourself?” and every single time they have both looked at him wide-eyed and said a resounding “Yes!” It seems as though they’re terribly surprised that anyone would even question that. Their attitude cracks me up but it also makes me feel that despite the usual and all too common doubts I have as to whether I´m a good mom, I´m doing something right in that department!
I was not only painfully shy as a kid, I also hated myself profoundly. So much so, that I resorted to something I have found to be an unfortunate trend in young girls nowadays: self-mutilation. In my late teens, I would dig the blades of a pair of sharp scissors into my forearms until I bled. The pain seemed somewhat soothing and the self-punishment felt redeeming. I still have the scars as a reminder. So, how did someone who loathed herself by the age of eight years old manage to raise two girls who continue to surprise me with their outgoing, self-assured ways? While I struggled to fit in at their age, my girls have long been fine with standing out—the youngest by wearing mismatched socks on purpose and my eldest by hustling it out on the basketball court.
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My own path to self-love began the day in my mid-thirties when I decided I was ready to have children. I wasn’t sure how pregnancy would affect my self-image and whether it would cause my eating disorder to flare up. Thinking back to my childhood, I realized that my skewed self-image was to a large extent a learned behavior. I grew up watching the elder women in my family complaining about their big thighs, sagging breasts, being too fat, and going on extreme or fad diets every other month. Back then there was not much awareness regarding eating disorders, body image or a woman´s sense of self-worth. As a result, I never felt good enough.
If I was to bring kids into this world, I vowed I would never ever bash myself in front of them, never complain about my shortcomings, my weight, my age…. And miraculously as my belly grew and my body changed with each of my two pregnancies, I fell in love with it. The body I so hated when I was younger, produced the two people I would now give my life for. How could I not adore every single fold of sagging skin, every stretch mark… they were the result of giving birth to my daughters? How could I not love myself entirely for having prepared myself body and soul to have these children?
The truth is that by faking my own self-esteem for the sake of my girls, not only have I developed it myself, but apparently, I’ve passed it on to them. They both think I’m beautiful, strong, smart and outgoing. But most importantly, I’m raising confident daughters. They believe they are beautiful, strong, smart and outgoing. And they are!
So when someone asks me how to counteract the pressure from the media in order to raise daughters with good self-esteem, I tell them my story. Your kids look up to you, and it all boils down to modeling self-love, day in day out. At first you may feel like a phony, but eventually—trust me on this one—you’ll feel it and will perhaps even wonder how you could ever have doubted yourself. Then, when you experience your own daughters loving themselves just the way they are, you will make peace with your rocky journey to healthy self-esteem.